Business development takes time. Acquiring the skills to develop business takes even longer.
This is one of the tensions lawyers face. On one hand, they feel pressure to win new business quickly, especially in today's daunting economy. On the other hand, it takes a lot of time (and other resources) to become a sales expert.
In his new book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell quantifies how much is “a lot.” Gladwell cites the 10,000-hour rule that researchers agree it takes to become expert at anything.
Time, however, is just one ingredient. Gladwell argues that the 10,000 hours of focused practice is neither a solitary activity nor simple repetition. Rather, experts and mentors must guide it. Furthermore, it must take you outside your comfort zone.
Neurologist Daniel Levitin adds, “Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years. No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."
For most lawyers, the odds of finding another 10,000 hours in your life are slim. Seasoned lawyers have spent their 10,000 hours mastering lawyering.
These lawyers cannot allocate 20 hours per week to master selling skills. Even if they somehow could, their urgent need for immediate business development results precludes the traditional teach → coach → practice, practice, practice approach.
The game changer
Today's market has challenged pre-recession market strategies. Whether your approach is defensive (hoping to preserve current revenue levels) or offensive (aggressively capturing market share amid the economic crisis and chaos), our times call for a new business development model.
So, at least for the short term, redirect your sales improvement investments away from the traditional training-centric approach, in which your sales capabilities grow incrementally over time. Instead, adopt a result-centric approach, where sales capabilities derive from immediate, dramatically ramped-up successes and results.
How do you shift your focus from training to results? Rent a proxy sales force of “ringers,” seasoned sales professionals who can coach and guide lawyers to a much higher closing percentage. Manage for our times by using sales pros who are focused solely on converting high-quality, immediate business opportunities into high-margin engagements.
Professionals never lose to amateurs
If two laypersons find themselves in a business dispute, it’s anybody’s guess which will prevail. However, if one of them has a seasoned legal professional advising them, the outcome is foregone.
Yet a lot of lawyers are amateur salespersons. They’re the ones who haven't reached mastery by investing 10,000 hours honing the sales craft.
Give yourself the insurmountable competitive advantage of being guided by a sales pro. It’s all about stacking the odds in your favor:
- Receiving coaching is a form of practice. You practice the sales interaction with the coach, then again with the prospect. Success breeds additional activity, which, combined with more coaching, constitutes still more practice.
- Over time, skills will develop. Over enough time, you’ll become an expert.
Coaches also prevent wasted time, effort and sales cost by quickly exposing false opportunities. This eliminates needless activity and reduces frustration.
Scoring while the clock is stopped
Coaching cannot turn a lawyer into an instant sales expert. By dividing the labor, however, coaching vastly speeds up the results of the sales effort. It frees lawyers from having to do the opportunity analysis, strategic and tactical thinking parts of the sales process.
With coaching, lawyers will approach each sales opportunity with greater confidence and discipline. They will shorten the decision cycle and win more business at a higher margin and lower cost of sales.
That's the immediate effect.
There’s a long-term benefit, too. The more sophisticated methods that coached lawyers use will deliver a more positive and valuable experience for their buyers. This is something that will differentiate you permanently.
Maximum Bang for the Buck
Here's how to maximize the “coach effect” without blowing up your budget:
- Shift your mindset to "results-first, skills-second."
- Engage a sales coach who is a true peer, someone who has at least as much seasoning and experience as you have practicing law.
- Have the coach work only on legitimate opportunities worthy of real investment.
- This is not education. Limit the coaching session to the immediate, tangible sales opportunity. Forget about broad or theoretical discussions about strategic practice development or marketing.
- Arrange continuous telephone access to the coach to guide subsequent activity through to a decision.
Because this process pays for itself quickly, it's limited only by the number of legitimate opportunities available to you.
Mike O'Horo is a serial innovator in the law business. His current venture, RainmakerVT, is the world's first interactive online rainmaking training for lawyers, by which lawyers learn how to attract the right kind of clients without leaving their desks. For 20 years, Mike has been known by lawyers everywhere as The Coach. He trained more than 7000 of them, generating $1.5 billion in new business. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org